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Ary Scheffer, een Nederlandse Fransman

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) is so generally included in the French School (Note 2)- unsurprisingly, since his career was confined almost entirely to Paris - that the fact that he was born and partly trained in the Netherlands is often overlooked. Yet throughout his life he kept in touch with Dutch colleagues and drew part of his inspiration from Dutch traditions. These Dutch aspects are the subject of this article. The Amsterdam City Academy, 1806-9 Ary Scheffer was enrolled at the Amsterdam Academy on 25 October 1806, his parents falsifying his date of birth in order to get him admitted at the age of eleven (fifteen was the oficial age) . He started in the third class and in order to qualify for the second he had to be one of the winners in the prize drawing contest. Candidates in this were required to submit six drawings made during the months January to March. Although no-one was supposed to enter until he had been at the Academy for four years, Ary Scheffer competed in both 1808 and 1809. Some of his signed drawings are preserved in Dordrecht. (Figs. 1-5 and 7), along with others not made for the contest. These last in particular are interesting not only because they reveal his first prowess, but also because they give some idea of the Academy practice of his day. Although the training at the Academy broadly followed the same lines as that customary in France, Italy and elsewhere (Note 4), our knowledge of its precise content is very patchy, since there was no set curriculum and no separate teachers for each subject. Two of Scheffer's drawings (Figs. 2 and 3) contain extensive notes, which amount to a more or less complete doctrine of proportion. It is not known who his teacher was or what sources were used, but the proportions do not agree with those in Van der Passe's handbook, which came into vogue in the 18th century, or with those of the canon of a Leonardo, Dürer or Lebrun. One gets the impression that what are given here are the exact measurements of a concrete example. Scheffer's drawings show him gradually mastering the rudiments of art. In earlier examples the hatching is sometimes too hasty (Fig. 4) or too rigidly parallel (Fig.5), while his knowledge of anatomy is still inadequate and his observation not careful enough. But right from the start he shows flair and as early as 1807 he made a clever drawing of a relatively complex group (Fig. 6) , while the difficult figure of Marsyas was already well captured in 1808 and clearly evinces his growing knowledge o f anatomy, proportion , foreshortening and the effects of light (Fig. 7). The same development can be observed in his portrait drawings. That of Gerardus Vrolik (1775-1859, Fig.8), a professor at the Atheneum Illustre (the future university) and Scheffer' s teacher, with whom he always kept in touch (Note 6), is still not entirely convincing, but a portrait of 1809, thought to be of his mother (Fig.9, Note 7), shows him working much more systematically. It is not known when he left the Academy, but from the summer of 1809 we find him in France, where he was to live with only a few breaks from 1811 to his death. The first paintings and the Amsterdam exhibitions of 1808 and 1810 Ary Scheffer's earliest known history painting, Hannibal Swearing to Avenge his Brother Hasdrubal's Death (Fig. 10) Notes 8-10) was shown at the first exhibition of living masters in Amsterdam in 1808. Although there was every reason for giving this subject a Neo-Classical treatment, the chiaroscuro, earthy colours and free brushwork show Scheffer opting for the old Dutch tradition rather than the modern French style. This was doubtless on the prompting of his parents,for a comment in a letter from his mother in 1810 (Note 12) indicates that she shared the reservations of the Dutch in general about French Neo-Classicism. (Note 11). As the work of a twelve to thirteen year old, the painting naturally leaves something to be desired: the composition is too crowded and unbalanced and the anatomy of the secondary figures rudimentary. In a watercolour Scheffer made of the same subject, probably in the 1820's, he introduced much more space between the figures (Fig. 11, Note 13). Two portraits are known from this early period. The first, of Johanna Maria Verbeek (Fig. 12, Note 14), was done when the two youngsters were aged twelve. It again shows all the characteristics of an early work, being schematic in its simplicity, with some rather awkward details and inadequate plasticity. On the other hand the hair and earrings are fluently rendered, the colours harmonious and the picture has an undeniable charm. At the second exhibition of works by living masters in 1810, Ary Scheffer showed a 'portrait of a painter' (Fig. 13), who was undoubtedly his uncle Arnoldus Lamme, who also had work in the exhibition as did Scheffer's recently deceased father Johan-Bernard and his mother Cornelia Scheffer-Lamme, an indication of the stimulating surroundings in which he grew up. The work attracted general attention (Note 16) and it does, indeed, show a remarkable amount of progress, the plasticity, effects of light, brushwork and colour all revealing skill and care in their execution. The simple, bourgeois character of the portrait not only fits in with the Dutch tradition which Scheffer had learned from both his parents in Amsterdam, but also has points in common with the recent developments in France, which he could have got to know during his spell in Lille from autumn 1809 onwards. A Dutchman in Paris Empire and Restoration, 1811-30 In Amsterdam Scheffer had also been laught by his mother, a miniature painter, and his father, a portrait and history painter (Note 17). After his father's death in June 1809, his mother, who not only had a great influence on his artistic career, but also gave his Calvinism and a great love of literature (Note 18), wanted him to finish his training in Paris. After getting the promise of a royal grant from Louis Napoleon for this (Note 19) and while waiting for it to materialize, she sent the boy to Lille to perfect his French as well as further his artistic training. In 1811 Scheffer settled in Paris without a royal grant or any hope of one. He may possibly have studied for a short time under Prudhon (Note 20) , but in the autumn of 1811 he was officially contracted as a pupil of Guérin, one of the leading artists of the school of David, under whom he mastered the formulas of NeD-Classicism, witness his Orpheus and Eurydice (Fïg.14), shown in the Salon of 1814. During his first ten years in Paris Scheffer also painted many genre pieces in order, so he said, to earn a living for himself and his mother. Guérin's prophecy that he would make a great career as a history painter (Note 21) soon came true, but not in the way Guérin thought it would, Scheffer participating in the revolution initiated by his friends and fellow-pupils, Géricault and Delacroix, which resulted in the rise of the Romantic Movement. It was not very difficult for him to break with Neo-Classicism, for with his Dutch background he felt no great affinity with it (Note 22). This development is ilustrated by his Gaston de Foix Dying on the Battlefield After his Victory at Ravenna, shown at the Salon of 1824, and The Women of Souli Throwing Themselves into the Abyss (Fig.15), shown at that of 1827-8. The last years of the Restoration and the July Monarchy. Influence of Rembrandt and the Dutch masters In 1829, when he seemed to have become completely assimilated in France and had won wide renown, Scheffer took the remarkable step of returning to the Netherlands to study the methods of Rembrandt and other Dutch old masters (Note 23) . A new orientation in his work is already apparent in the Women of Souli, which is more harmonious and considered in colour than the Gaston dc Foix (Note 24). This is linked on the one hand to developments in France, where numbers of young painters had abandoned extreme Romanticism to find the 'juste milieu', and on the other to Scheffer's Dutch background. Dutch critics were just as wary of French Romanticism as they had been of Neo-Classicism, urging their own painters to revive the traditions of the Golden Age and praising the French painters of the 'juste milieu'. It is notable how many critics commented on the influence of Rembrandt on Scheffer's works, e.g. his Faust, Marguérite, Tempête and portrait of Talleyrand at the Salon of 1851 (Note 26). The last two of these date from 1828 and show that the reorientation and the interest in Rembrandt predate and were the reasons for the return to the Netherlands in 1829. In 1834 Gustave Planche called Le Larmoyeur (Fig. 16) a pastiche of Rembrandt and A. Barbier made a comparable comment on Le Roi de Thule in 1839 (Note 27). However, as Paul Mantz already noted in 1850 (Note 28), Scheffer certainly did not fully adopt Rembrandt's relief and mystic light. His approach was rather an eclectic one and he also often imbued his work with a characteristically 19th-century melancholy. He himself wrote after another visit to the Netherlands in 1849 that he felt he had touched a chord which others had not attempted (Note 29) . Contacts with Dutch artists and writers Scheffer's links with the Netherlands come out equally or even more strongly in the many contacts he maintained there. As early as 1811-12 Sminck-Pitloo visited him on his way to Rome (Note 30), to be followed in the 1820's by J.C. Schotel (Note 31), while after 1830 as his fame increased, so the contacts also became more numerous. He was sought after by and corresponded with various art dealers (Note 33) and also a large number of Dutch painters, who visited him in Paris or came to study under him (Note 32) Numerous poems were published on paintings by him from 1838 onwards, while Jan Wap and Alexander Ver Huell wrote at length about their visits to him (Note 34) and a 'Scheffer Album' was compiled in 1859. Thus he clearly played a significant role in the artistic life of the Netherlands. International orientation As the son of a Dutch mother and a German father, Scheffer had an international orientation right from the start. Contemporary critics and later writers have pointed out the influences from English portrait painting and German religious painting detectable in his work (Note 35). Extracts from various unpublished letters quoted here reveal how acutely aware he was of what was likely to go down well not only in the Netherlands, but also in a country like England, where he enjoyed great fame (Notes 36-9) . July Monarchy and Second Empire. The last decades While most French artists of his generation seemed to have found their definitive style under the July Monarchy, Scheffer continued to search for new forms of expression. In the 1830's, at the same time as he painted his Rembrandtesque works, he also produced his famous Francesca da Rimini (Fig. 17), which is closer to the 'juste milieu' in its dark colours and linear accents. In the 1840's he used a simple and mainly bright palette without any picturesque effects, e.g. in his SS. Augustine and Monica and The Sorrows of the Earth (Note 41), but even this was not his last word. In an incident that must have occurred around 1857 he cried out on coming across some of his earlier works that he had made a mistake since then and wasted his time (Note 42) and in his Calvin of 1858 (Fig. 18) he resumed his former soft chiaroscuro and warm tones. It is characteristic of him that in that same year he painted a last version of The Sorrows of the Earth in the light palette of the 1840's. Despite the difficulty involved in the precise assessment of influences on a painter with such a complex background, it is clear that even in his later period, when his work scored its greatest successes in France, England and Germany, Scheffer always had a strong bond with the Netherlands and that he not only contributed to the artistic life there, but always retained a feeling for the traditions of his first fatherland. Appendix An appendix is devoted to a study of the head of an old man in Dordrecht, which is catalogued as a copy of a 17th-century painting in the style of Rembrandt done by Ary Scheffer at the age of twelve (Fig.19, Note 43). This cannot be correct, as it is much better than the other works by the twelve-year-old painter. Moreover, no mention is made of it in the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition held in Paris in 1859, where the Hannibal is given as his earliest work (Note 44). It was clearly unknown then, as it is not mentioned in any of the obituaries of 1858 and 1859 either. The earliest reference to it occurs in the list made bv Scheffer's daughter in 1897 of the works she was to bequeath to the Dordrecht museum. A clue to its identification may be a closely similar drawing by Cornelia Scheffer-Lamme (Fig. 20, Note 46), which is probably a copy after the head of the old man. She is known to have made copies after contemporary and 17th-century masters. The portrait might thus be attributable to Johan-Bernard Scheffer, for his wife often made copies of his works and he is known from sale catalogues to have painted various portraits of old men (Note 47, cf. Fig.21). Ary Scheffer also knew this. In 1839 his uncle Arnoldus Lamme wrote to him that he would look out for such a work at a sale (Note 48). It may be that he succeeded in finding one and that this portrait came into the possession of the Scheffer family in that way, but Johan-Bernard's work is too little known for us to be certain about this.


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